Categories: Inspiration

I found this article an interesting read, it looks at our modern society and at the traditional peoples we once were. These traditions “are what shaped us and caused us to be what we are now,” writes Jared Diamond in The World Until Yesterday. The modern lifestyle and comforts are "new" in the history of humans. We must relearn and reconnect, living in harmony with everything that surrounds us; with the people and the living planet which we are part of.

Since human societies have been traditional far longer than modern, could looking back provide clues for the future? What can we learn from our living ancestors that will help promote sustainability, health, and happiness? As we develop awareness of our common wealth, wouldn’t it be wise to take a lesson from those who long ago found a way to make society work?

A Reciprocal Mindset Fosters Balance

Four Arrows (Don Trent Jacobs), in Critical Neurophilosophy and Indigenous Wisdom, talks about “a returning in kind in order to maintain balance in the universe.”2 To be human is humbling and at the same time carries the greatest responsibility. This self-awareness requires of us to be conscious of our role in nature and our place in the universe. That necessitates mutual generosity—a reciprocal mindset.

To traditional people, life has meaning through family, community, and nature. But there is more. The reciprocal mindset that fostered sustainability over many millennia necessitated something other than people and land. The ability to abide for thousands of years demanded a deep understanding of the natural world and an unwavering commitment to universal, self-evident principles that originate from one central idea. From where does this understanding of an original idea originate?

In the West, knowledge is acquired in institutions of higher learning and wisdom is associated with experience, time, and age. Knowledge is an acquisition of information, much as is the accumulation of money, property, and goods. Wisdom garnered from lifelong learning is relative, a comparative process that provides perspective on past knowledge. But there are other kinds of wisdom. Innate intelligence is not one-dimensional, nor can it be easily learned. There is also wisdom that comes from oneness with nature, life, and the universe.

Among indigenous people, learning is passed down and passed on, and instructed mostly through example. Knowledge is not acquired; it is transmitted. In the indigenous mindset, pure knowledge is imparted though direct experience with the source of life—Nature and the Universe. An individual may embody wisdom, but its source is ancestral.

To the indigenous, wisdom is imparted from entities wiser than humans, including the highest mountains and the oldest trees. The wise person is a repository of memories, a keeper of learning, and a vessel for higher knowledge. The wise person shares knowledge freely with others in order to foster balance and promote harmony among people and nature. The indigenous way is reverential to a degree that Westerners might consider spiritual. Respect for the sacred in all things differentiates the indigenous reciprocal mindset from the modern Western mind.

In the often quoted address of 1848, Chief Seattle of the Suquamish people in what is now central Puget Sound in Washington state, alleged: “Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap that courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man. This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.”

Chief Seattle informed us that all things are connected, deeply rooted, ingrained with wisdom, and therefore sacred. Because we are children of the Earth, connected to each other locally and regionally—and more than ever as planetary citizens now—we are linked in one great planetary web of life. Indigenous people revere the Earth as the great mother who births all creatures and things. They see links and networks in nature as holy: trees are temples and mountains house intelligence. Why have modern people lost this sense of the sacred in nature? How can we get it back?

The traditional indigenous reciprocal mindset involves cooperation—giving so you and others can survive—but there is more. Indigenous people preserve an intimacy with nature that is in stark contrast to Westerners. They live a reciprocal lifestyle in cooperation with others and nature. The kind of reciprocity embodied in indigenous behavior fosters both immediate survival and long-term sustainability. Westerners are good at short-term profit and gain, but extraordinarily poor at foresight and long-term sustainability.

Chief Oren Lyons in Original Instructions says: “Life is endless. It just continues on and on in great cycles of regeneration.”3 Native American traditionalists like Chief Lyons hold that there is an original set of instructions, a natural law of mutual coexistence and sustainability. Sarah van Gelder of YES! Magazine referred to such a principle as “nature’s original idea”4 as she reminds us that sometimes nature evolves better ways for doing things.

The indigenous reciprocal mindset springs from an original idea that all things are biologically and spiritually interrelated and self regenerative. All things are created equal. The Earth is not only alive, it is a miracle. Nature is sacred. Life is truly endless. Nature is interested in a strong link between the past and the future. Evolution works because of an infinite number of such links. Keeping the balance of life through mutual reciprocity between humans and nature is the cornerstone of sustainability. 

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